The US Obligation to Its Overwhelming Power
It’s great to be the most powerful nation in the world, but certain obligations come along with the gun-belt and six-shooters. That fact is most clearly evident in the recent terrorist acts in Paris and the ongoing migrant catastrophe in Europe.
A pretty good definition of obligation is “the social force that binds you to the courses of action demanded by that force.” Military primacy qualifies, as it’s about as powerful a ‘social force’ as you can imagine. Both the Paris attacks and migration chaos are social forces writ large. Both trace their origins to the long trail of pandemonium in the Middle East and Africa and neither France nor the EU are major players on that stage. It has been and remains primarily a US show.
But the blow-back has been far from equally shared. Europe struggles with millions arriving on their shores, while America’s president can’t find the political means to accept even a scanty ten thousand. Meanwhile, millions more will be coming to Europe because it is the nearest refuge. Geography is trumping all else, while President Obama chastises Europe for not doing enough.
So let’s go back a bit in history for context—forgive me, it’s what old people do (because we were there). Most of our Middle East policy was deal-making and the deals were made for immediate and future access to oil. It’s not a pretty story:
During the 2nd World War we secured North African and Middle East oil for the allies, replaced the Brit influence in that area and, like a bull terrier, never let go.
And then came the CIA, an organization Harry Truman declared to have “diverted from its original assignment, becoming an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the Government, compounding our difficulties in several explosive areas.”
Well, I guess and explode they did. Truman made that comment a half-century ago in 1963 and wrote a great deal about his concerns over a CIA gone rogue. Put that alongside his successor, Dwight Eisenhower, warning to beware the military industrial complex (whose complexity now swallows 52% of our national budget).
The combination amounts to a shadow government and we never set out to be a nation of shadow governments.
Off and running, the CIA troublemakers and military industrial dudes pursued policies of destabilizing governments, arming despots and never dreamed up a war they didn’t love. Across South and Central America, Africa, the Middle and Far East—dictators were supported, democracies extinguished and insurgents armed to meet whatever the hell served their purposes above those of America.
Vietnam, Sandinistas, Iraq against Iran, Russia in Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, Israel, Syria and Saudi—no stone or grain of sand was left unmolested in their warped vision of freedom.
Tongue-in-cheek, George Carlin once asked, “If crime-fighters fight crime and fire-fighters fight fire, what do freedom-fighters fight?”
We armed the world to the teeth (at an obscene profit) and then stood back amazed when they began to shoot at one another. In war after war we fought a new enemy--armed with our military leftovers--and never won a single one of them. ISIS now bounces around Iraq, raising hell and cutting off heads on-board US military vehicles.
I conclude from this that the current migration from the hell that North Africa and the Middle East have become is entirely the consequence of American misappropriation of its strength. That’s too mild a term, but it will have to do.
In decade after decade and nation after nation, we brutalized populations, destroyed infrastructures and existing governments. Then we left and set to work making our own nation increasingly fearful. A nation in fear is a nation willing to pay any price and the price was unending war. Meanwhile, our arms-producers counted their money and the CIA planned their next move. Ukraine? Why the hell not? Syria? Sounds good to them.
If that is true (and many will argue the point), then we have failed in our obligation to clean up our messes in any remote proportion to our national tendency to shit-the-bed.
It is not Europe’s responsibility to handle the migrants headed their way—it is ours, America’s. Europe merely has the misfortune to be the closest refuge for those we have caused to flee. Millions are in line and millions yet to come. Those millions should be rightfully assigned to fulfilling America’s moral obligation.
Yet where are the John McCains and Lindsey Grahams when that call comes?
Hiding in the cloakroom between blustery statements of ever-increased warfare, I presume. Neither of them ever faced a war they didn’t love or failed to proclaim we would have won had we only escalated the terms. Neither of them (and the many who join their point of view) would take in a refugee or free a Guantanamo inmate. Neither have an apology for their continuing wrongheadedness in the face of history.
We are a better nation than our recent history would indicate. Time now—way past time—to step up and take responsibility for our errors of judgment. If America continues to fail test after test of responsibility for its actions, then it has nothing but raw power to sustain it. We will then have passed from international Beacon of Hope to World’s Most Feared nation in the course of but a few short decades.